Dear Mr. President: What Happened?

Dear Mr. President,

Back on November 4, around 11 pm Eastern, a collective cheer went up across the country and around the globe. The long, dark nightmare that had been the last eight years was over, we thought. The promises that we had heard during the campaign and in your victory speech that night had us thrilled at the prospect that the United States would abandon the lawless ways of George W. Bush and rejoin the civilized nations that do not torture prisoners or spy on its citizens illegally. There was hope that rational, fair action would be taken to repair a broken economy.

What happened?

You said that you rejected torture, and you promised to close Guantanamo within a year. Yet, we are hearing reports that abuse at Guantanamo has gone up since you took office. What happened? Time is running out. Will you stop torture at Guantanamo and all facilities under US control around the globe, or is closing Guantanamo just a token action behind which abuses will continue?

You promised the most transparent government our country has seen. Now your Attorney General tells us that he agrees, with possibly only one exception, with the Bush Administration’s invocation of state secrets in all of the currently ongoing lawsuits. What happened? When does transparency come? Will you eventually reject state secrets claims in lawsuits, or do you now reject that promise of openness?

As part of your transparency promises, you said that you would release the Office of Legal Counsel memos behind which the Bush Administration hid while committing many of its crimes. Yet, when the worst memo from 2002 and three of the worst memos from 2005 are nearing release, you choose to delay. What happened? Will you release these memos with little to no redaction, are will you hide the substantive portions of them?

You made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor in 2006 in support of habeas corpus rights for prisoners captured away from an active battlefield. Your Department of Justice has now filed a brief that continues the Bush Administration claims that habeas rights do not apply to such prisoners. What happened? Why do you now reject your previous position on this important issue?

You promised new approaches to the financial crisis that would focus on the average citizen and help those struggling with mortgages that have become unaffordable. What happened? You have continued the Bush Administration approach of giving staggeringly large sums of money to the very Wall Street executives who created the problems while not requiring even modest accountability from them for their previous actions or for how they will use the new funds. When will you take action on behalf of the average citizen?

Many of us in the progressive community worked hard for your election once our preferred candidates dropped out of the race. Simple math should tell you that you were not the first choice for most of the people who voted for you or worked on the late stages of your campaign, since you started well back in the pack of candidates before the primaries began.

It was very easy for progressives to join in your campaign for two reasons. First, your candidacy was an affirmation of the American ideal that all people have equal rights and neither race nor family financial status should be barriers to holding the highest office in the land. Second, you had a finely tuned ear and quickly seized on the higher ideals of other candidates who dropped by the wayside in the long primary process. You gained the support of progressives by saying all of the right things on civil liberties and social justice.

Please do not make the mistake of believing that our commitment to you is stronger than our commitment to our values. We were for civil liberties and social justice before we were for you. Do not make us choose between our ideals or you, because, in your most recent actions we do not see the ideals you told us that you would champion.

What happened? Will you return to the ideals that won you the nomination and provided you with the team to achieve your election?

So far, I see only one promise fulfilled completely. Bo is a delightful choice for Sasha and Malia, and I have no doubt that they will enjoy his company for many years to come. Will progressives enjoy your company for the next four (or eight) years, or will you continue on your current path toward becoming just another of the many opponents to civil liberties and social justice against whom we must continue our struggle?

Our ideals are calling. Will you regain that finely tuned ear, or will we now have to struggle against you?

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